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Claire Matheny ~ Easter: Bonus Material

Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.

After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them. – Mark 16:9-13

It’s about time. I want to trust that it is true; good news comes in all different forms. I really want to believe it. I want to wake up one day to emerge from the dark of the room to find that things have changed, and that there in the cave of uncertainty I will find it, that our wait would be over.

I want to find…my child’s first tooth. A parent can expect teeth anywhere from 5-6 months to 18 months. Some are early sprouters and some are late bloomers…and then, well, there are the outliers. My daughter turned 18 months old last week and she passed this mile marker with an all-gummy grin.

When my child is grumpy, fussy, cranky, I no longer default to the thought that a tooth is emerging. Twelve long months of teeth not being the cause of her pain has made that feel silly. So many times we have been “faked out,” passing her teething rings, cold presses, sympathetic fingers to the mouth in order to feel whatever may be emerging.

I talked to my dentist. She assures me that she has never seen a child with no teeth. We have an appointment lined up with the pediatric dentist. I hear other parents say that it is strange to look at an x-ray and see baby teeth just below the surface in your kid’s mouth…and then oddly on the layer above these baby chompers is the row of adult teeth hanging back ready for their day in the sun. I am not ready for an adult, I have an outlying toddler. It’s appropriate for the season.

Easter exposes the outliers. That extra stretch of time in the darkness of three days, God is bringing about the best sprout of all time. During Holy Week we heard about those who approached the tomb expecting to find a buried reality, only to be shocked and surprised.

And it could be that Mark ended there with verse eight. It certainly could have ended there according to this Gospel writer. If you go to any Bible, you will no doubt find some cryptic words connected with verse nine and beyond. In some texts these verses even appear in brackets. In the earliest of manuscripts, these words that tell about the Jesus sightings, the actual glimpses of the Risen Christ after the tomb, were not found.

It begs the question: were the original verses lost? It is possible. Did later scholars seek to fill in the other elements of the story that existed from oral tradition and other manuscripts? Or did Mark truly end with the strange words that close chapter eight in reference to the women at the tomb: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (NRSV).

We are led to believe that there were those who thought that this was anything but a fitting end to the script. It leaves us hanging. It leaves us dangling in wait of what is to happen next. If it were a TV series, it would be the end of one season with a cliffhanger to the next. “Jesus really is alive, tune in next time.” But, something would come next. It could not possibly end there. And we the readers know it cannot, it does not end there. More verses emerge.

But why? In part because Mary Magdalene had to tell someone about what she had seen! She cannot keep the bottle on the best surprise. Some people do not have poker faces. Some folks telegraph joy or fright. There is no way Mary Magdalene is getting far before she explodes with the good news. Out of fear comes a wellspring of recognition: the cave, the tomb, could not hold the body.

For Mark, this is all bonus material. It is the spectacular extra tracks. Unexpectedly there is an uncovered song there, the important lyrics of liberation. You have to listen to several minutes of “dead space” in order to hear a guitar fire back up. Recall “Her Majesty,” the hidden, bonus song on the Beatles’ “Abbey Road”?

In light of the risen Christ, each of our days, our opportunities here are like bonus days. That’s what my church member has said to me as she approaches her 93rd birthday. When I ask her how she is doing, she says that these days are all “gravy.”

I find myself a bit envious. I have some less years on me, but what if I treated these days, these now as they are—gravy days. Bold days are here. The resurrection is real. All these days past the tomb living into the Easter story of resurrection are extra.

I am guessing if we asked Georgina Harwood she may say the same thing about the days she has been given. I read the story of this remarkable woman who took a leap out of a plane…on her 100th birthday. She would go on in the next days to swim with sharks to commemorate a century on earth. She wants to make the very most of all the days she has.

Crazy? Perhaps. Crazier than resurrection? Not a chance.

And there is 19-year-old Lauren Hill you may have heard about. She tenaciously played college basketball until a brain tumor progressed last fall and she had to stop. She has since died. But ever since her diagnosis, she advocated and raised funds for research, and kept up a spirit of determination that transcends her death. She was an outlier (in her rare disease, yes), as a courageous woman who transformed a seemingly horrific situation. Who knew her mortality was not the end of her legacy.

We could make a long list of all the signs of death in our midst.

But here at the site of the empty tomb is our leap beyond lip service. When we take up the mantle from Mary and open our mouth to the truth. There is something bursting below the surface. A little seed of germination. This is Easter…we are the outliers who believe that despite all the impossibility of being raised from death that our God did just that.

Do you know what my daughter can do? No, she cannot eat cucumbers, or crunch carrots, or scissor her incisors into celery. But that smile. The way her nose crinkles when she is particularly happy—that has resurrection joy written all over it. And it keeps coming after each fall on the playground, each age-appropriate meltdown, each sniffly nose, each whiny protestation.

And such joy will come even after her teeth cut through the flesh in their painful way. Surely coming back into human flesh as Jesus did had its growing pains as well. The Scripture says that Jesus was now different. In light of Easter, we too are different. We Christian outliers know of life beyond death, life beyond pain—even when we are justifiably upset at our circumstances. As we name the death of this world, let’s admit that it is about time life showed up.

Whatever the state of your teeth: we know that each mouth has good news to share. We have been gifted the bonus tracks. Christ honors all life: aging and emergent, graying and green, nearing the earthly end and the just now newborn. Can we manage a smile in thanksgiving for our gravy, grave-defying days? Can we dare to keep the Spirit of Easter going, in motion, emanating from our flexible selves?

You know, a part of me already misses my child’s gummy grin. Even if we feel the lingering tug of death, Christ sustains his emergence from the empty cave. With our outlying smiles, we keep the promise that first burst from the mouth of Mary Magdalene.